Arlene Will Live a Long Life

by NotDownOrOut

I am thinking today that Joyce is 100% cancer free, has normal lymph nodes and no more lymphedema. Peggy has no expiration date. Arlene lived a long life. My family and friends are my “secret” power. Prayer is the best medicine. Cheryl is winning her war against cancer. All of us find strength in knowledge and faith.

It is a sad day for my family. My Aunt Arlene, whose name I have kept in my thoughts all of the time for a long time, died today. Her husband Dan died in December. Her sister-in-law Ann died last month. Her children now face a third very painful loss within four months. Arlene was my mom’s only sibling and the younger sister. This is a blow to everyone who loved her.

I am, of course, very sad at the news. Arlene had metastatic breast cancer for many years. She also had an inoperable, benign brain tumor. I do not know for a fact which proved to be the cause of her death, but I believe with all of my heart that it was the pressure of the tumor on her brain that took her life rather than the cancer. I will remember her as having beat the cancer. I think that there are many of us who will beat cancer in our lives and still end up dying. I am calling out victories wherever I find them.

My mom returned to Chicago Wednesday, after traveling to D.C. to stay with my sister Kathy. Kathy and her family drove my mom down to Richmond so that the sisters could see each other before Arlene’s death. They visited together three times. They looked at photo albums. They posed for new photographs. My mom brought her sister some orange pop and a book of stamps so that she could continue to correspond. They did not say goodbye. My mom left while her sister was napping and did not tell her that she would not be back. I think this worked for them. Farewell was going to be too painful for either sister to bear.

My aunt was at times confused during those visits. She would relay stories from TV programs and tell the family that she had been part of the events. She would talk to a stuffed toy as if it were her dog or a person. She mistook Kathy and my mom for her own beloved daughter Jill. But there were times when she had clarity and recognized her sister. She was so happy to see her. I did not have a chance to make a trip out to see Arlene, but we had many long phone calls in the last year. I felt very good about my relationship with her and felt at peace with the decision to end chemotherapy treatment this year.

Easy for me to say.

My aunt did not fight her doctor’s decision to end treatment, but she was not fully reconciled to it when we last spoke. I think she was persuaded in the end to go along with the plan because my uncle was no longer there to share the battle. What an awesome thing marriage can be for some. I cannot imagine what it is like to share someone else’s joys and sorrows for decades and then lose the person who has shared so much of life. Uncle Dan was Arlene’s rock. I think Arlene also did not want to be a burden on her children (though they did not seem at all burdened, only committed to taking care of her). Her son Eric visited her nearly every day these last four months. She was tired. And the recent growth of the brain tumor made the cancer battle seem futile. She accepted hospice treatment. She suffered several small strokes. She took to her bed and slept more. She withdrew from activities. Fatigue and sleep were welcome anesthesia. Mental confusion meant she did not have to make many goodbyes.

Her children were here in Chicago burying their paternal aunt when it happened. I think sometimes this is best. When my dad’s physicians called for a “crash cart,” they told me to summon my mom and sister. Mom and Kathy had just left the room to head home for a nap. I said, “Goodbye, Dad,” and headed off leaving my brother Danny at the bedside. I think my dad would have chosen to have it happen when the three of us women were gone and my brother was standing at the ready. A mantle was passing. My brother was there to receive it and he has become a wonderful man. I’m sure my dad is proud. My aunt had already seen that mantle pass when her husband died. There is no question but that she was proud of her children and grandchildren. And they treated her with patience, dignity, and abiding love that she had to appreciate.

I think it was Winston Churchill who once said that the most important work of the world is done by people who don’t feel all that well. My aunt was not working or doing charity or raising her kids in these last years. She was retired from working as a nurse. She was no longer able to volunteer in her community. Her family was grown. But she read books. She listened to talk radio. She watched TV. She talked to people she met and spoke her mind. She bore up under terrible stress with humor and humility. She prayed for strength. She suffered with grace. This ordinary life conducted under extraordinary conditions was important work.